Staff Columnist

Minor bar rule stirs a debate in Marion

Marion City Hall
Marion City Hall

In Marion, we’re trying to decide whether it’s OK to allow kids in bars during daylight hours.

Bar owners would like to book some events, such as birthday parties, graduation get-togethers, etc., that might include some minor attendees. Marion’s city code prohibits anyone under 21 from entering a joint that makes more than half of its money selling booze. The City Council is pondering a change.

Some are fretting that loosened rules might expose kids to whatever it is adults do and say in drinking establishments. I wouldn’t know, of course.

And that’s because I have little need for bars. When I get home on Friday evening, my kids always are waiting for me with a freshly mixed Manhattan. Sure, it’s usually under-stirred and a little heavy on the sweet vermouth, but they’re just kids. Cut them some slack.

I’m only joking. I swear. Anyway, mixing a cocktail would mean looking up from their phones for several whole minutes. That’s not going to happen. Any immorality they’re exposed to must be streamed, in HD, on a digital platform.

A decade ago, when I first started columnizing, Iowa City was engaged in a great debate over the notion of allowing people under 21 to frequent bars after 10 p.m. I opined at the time that bars are for drinking, so if you’re not old enough to drink, there’s no reason to be in a bar late at night. I wrote then and still think the drinking age is in need of adjustment, but for now, the law’s the law.

Turns out I’ve mellowed some with age. And I’m seeing too frequent headlines bearing sad news of joints closing up shop. So I can’t bring myself to flatly deny barkeepers a chance to drum up a little more business while the sun shines. I also don’t buy the argument such a change will corrupt the youth.


My parents were hardly party animals, but they did occasionally darken the door of a tavern. It was usually for a reunion or a wedding reception or maybe they’d run into a friend or two on a visit to their old stamping grounds. Inevitably, I would be dragged along.

These were mostly small-town bars or Legion halls, with rows of curious bottled libations and exotic jars of pickled delicacies lined up amid tacked up Polaroids of pickled patrons. On the walls were beer signs imploring tipplers to explore “The Land of Sky Blue Waters” or to order up a frosty “Brew that Grew with the Great Northwest.” Or why not just get “Fully Krausened?”

And, by all means, if tonight is kind of special, “Let it Be Lowenbrau.”

Tables in the front, bar in the middle, a pool table in the back. There was food, but I have no idea what percentage of adjusted gross revenue was collected from sloppy joes and frozen pizza. If I was lucky, the joint had a video game I could play mindlessly for hours. On one occasion, I recall, a tipsy, toothless guy tried to teach me how to shoot pool.

If I was unlucky, adult conversation was my only entertainment.

Actually, unlucky was lucky, although I didn’t know it at the time. I heard some great stories, a few likely true. I learned multiple pointers on the art of adult communication. I probably heard words I had not heard before. My vocabulary grew with the bar tab.

Later, as a teenager, these adult skills allowed me to have long, friendly conversations with the parents of girls I was picking up for dates. They loved me. Unfortunately, not many girls wanted to date a 40-year-old teenager who hit it off so smashingly with their folks. Who knew?

So I don’t believe I was corrupted by these experiences, although I’ll concede I may now be too corrupted to know. Still, I seriously doubt the youth of Marion will be harmed by an afternoon affair at the local pub or snug. We take our kids to all sorts of food-serving establishments where plenty of drinking goes on and they still seem to be model citizens and accomplished scholars.

And, ultimately, the last call on where kids can and can’t go should be up to parents, not the finger-wagging, bubble-wrapping nanny state.

Besides, in this day and age, a gin joint is hardly the worst thing our kids might be exposed to. I mean, for starters, consider their easy access to cable news.


So I still think bars are for drinking, but I’m willing to make a daylight exception in the interest of small business success. Marion should alter its ordinance, so long as we’re not turning any perfectly respectable taverns into Chuck E. Cheese’s.

And I promise to mix my own Manhattans.

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